30 August 2009

KFC vs. Local & Organic: An Epic Tale

It's been a long, hot, sultry summer. Have you noticed our absence?

In true Parisian style, we've blown off just about everything for the summer: A couple of weeks in the States, entertaining (and sometimes getting busy in the kitchen with) friends from abroad, and generally doing anything to avoid being in our steampit of an apartment. Generally, this has meant hanging out on the various terrasses of Paris and getting slurry. And frankly, if there's anything we like better than cooking, taking photos, and writing about it, it's actually being out and about in Paris. Drinking.

But with the weather cooling down in time for la rentrée, we've ventured back into the kitchen more often, greasing the pans and flouring the crevices of passion. I've been compiling a sort of "Greatest Hits" of the summer for anyone interested, but in the meantime, something else has brought us out of our summer stupor: The KFC Double-Down.

Of course, I loathe KFC for their animal husbandry practices (or lack thereof) and the fact that their food, in general, sucks. But I have this morbid curiosity about various manufactured foods, and the last one to enchant me with its siren song was KFC's disgusting Famous Bowl. From first sight, I had to know what a sandwich using two pieces of fried chicken breast in lieu of bread was all about.

Fortunately for my stomach, intestines, and any other orifices affected by potential food poisoning, KFC in France has an extremely limited menu. No Famous/Toilet Bowl. And most certainly no Double Down. So after numerous comments back and forth on Facebook and Twitter – and some egging on from Alannah – I vowed I would make a "premium" version of the Double Down so we can try for ourselves.

Behold, the TKFC Double Down.

Two fried chicken breasts done in the style of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc fried chicken (from scratch, cribbing the recipe from the spooge-worthy Inuyaki.com), and in between it some slices of cheese and bacon.

Of course, these aren't just any ingredients. In order to really one-up KFC, we went as from-scratch as possible.

The chicken is farm-raised, just slaughtered, and lovingly prepared by our local butcher. Yesterday morning, it still had a head, feet, and feathers.

The bacon is one of the same butcher's specialties: Poitrine fumée (smoked pork belly), sliced to order. The butcher's from the Auvergne region – famous for its hogs – so he does not mess around when it comes to his cured meats, most of which are the product of his mad in-house charcuterie skills.

The cheese is Gruyère from the fromagerie up the street: One of the many master cheesemongers who ages and then selects cheeses for you on-site based on when you'll consume it (an appreciated art in France); One of the few who is a woman.

We even went a little crazy sourcing the ingredients for the fried chicken coating.

Buttermilk is hard to come by in France, so Alannah has devised a trick where she mixes fromage blanc ("white cheese," but it's actually just a denser yogurt) with milk. Naturally, we go with the organic stuff that's micro-filtered as opposed to heat pasteurized, but sometimes we go raw if we know we're going to use a litre within a few days.

For the dry part of the coating, we went as "from scratch" as we could, as well. While we don't mill our own flour, I did mill our own garlic powder (half a dried clove in a pestel and mortar), and the seasonings were as locally sourced as possible. (Impossible for the cayenne pepper, but hell...) Even the herbs and lemon for the brine were purchased at the local green market.

Having gone so far as to skip KFC and the supermarket, we decided to go a bit upmarket with classic KFC sides, as well.

Mashed potatoes became Alannah's spectacularly creamy, thick mashed red potatoes, topped with bacon gravy. Corn on the cob became corn charred on the cob, then shucked and tossed with butter and parsley. And - making a pitstop at Shakey's - Mojo potatoes became our Belgian-style double fried Mojo potatoes with grated parmesean and olive oil.

And the end result of all this?

It tasted like upscale fast food. Really good, really upscale fast food. As in I'd do body shots of the gravy off of Alannah. And she's already told me the only thing she'd forsake me for is Ad Hoc – and by golly, that's Ad Hoc fried chicken in front of her.

But I didn't cream my jeans over the concept.

In fact, I'm not sure what the big deal with KFC's Double Down is. The marketing ploy is that it's a bacon-cheese sandwich using fried chicken breasts for a bun. In reality, the combo you're looking at is a rebranded chicken Cordon Bleu. Think about it: A Cordon Bleu is a fried chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese, often served at banquets and school cafeterias. The Double Down just doubles the amount of chicken.

So really, we made chicken Cordon Bleu with excellent ingredients tonight. Ho freakin' hum.


But wait, there's more!

When we were assembling the ingredient list yesterday (we started a day before, because of the overnight brining process for the chicken), Alannah was a bit bummed by the bill of materials. She was under the impression that the Double Down was a burger. As in chicken-burger patty-chicken with some bacon and cheese in there.

So when we were at the butcher shop, we had our man in the bloody apron grind up some of his finest beef for us.

And like every good mad science project, we created a backup in case the first one failed... "Screw the Double Down," she said. "I wanna go All-In."

Mixed gambling metaphors aside, it was a perfect name.

Two TKFC chicken breasts, a 250 gram (over half pound) burger patty cooked medium, bacon, gruyère cheese, caramelized onions, deep fried hash browns, and bacon/burger-dripping gravy.

The heart-topped picks not only keep this monstrosity together, but remind you exactly what you risk damaging while you eat it.

I suggested topping it with a fried egg, but Alannah told me to stay realistic. There's only so much one can fit in his/her mouth in one go, after all.

And while I can't say I will ever make or eat such a thing again, it is now quite evident that I married the perfect woman. One who is still shapely, but can concoct a "sandwich" that puts the McGangBang to shame.


Unfortunately, we were too busy deep frying, frying, and roasting to concoct a KFC-style dessert. And to be frank, I don't care to make a fancy version of the Colonel's Parfait.

Instead, we rolled down to the gelato shop in our neighborhood, named in 2007 as Maître Glacier (Master Ice Cream Maker) of Europe, for some of their fabulous on-site creations. I was very happy with my cup of lemon-basil gelato, and Alannah with her green tea gelato, all made and sold on the very same street as the butcher, green market, and cheesemonger.

How's that for supporting independent, local merchants who source their goods from as near as possible?


Unfortunately, in bending the Colonel over and making his redneck ass our bitch like this, we spent a lot of time and money, and didn't exactly stroll to the gelateria all light as a feather.

The ingredient cost for one "Double Down," one "All-In," three sides, a bottle of wine, and dessert for two nearly came out to 30€ ($43). The time to prepare it from beginning to end: 17 hours. NOTE: There's a substantial amount of leftovers. Except the wine.

A Double Down combo meal at KFC costs around $7 (plus tax) and probably takes around six minutes.

Neither is particularly good for you.

But our version contained no hormones, came from animals raised in open-air farms (and we don't accept farms that are big dirt lots as open-air, there's a whole rating system for it), had as few industrial ingredients as we could get away with (no luck on the peppercorns, salt, and milk, I'm sure) and nothing genetically modified.

We got the pleasure of talking to our local purveyors, who are always more friendly than anyone at a supermarket or fast food restaurant.

We enjoyed beer and wine while waiting for the brine to cool.

We enjoyed each other's company while the chicken was brining overnight.

In every way, despite the much higher amount of time and money required, our "Double Down" (and "All In") were infinitely more pleasurable than the experience you get from KFC.

And what point is it going after foods on the extreme ends of the spectrum – be they the biggest, the fattiest, the greasiest, or whatever – if there is no pleasure?